Two potential 2016 presidential rivals, Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, did not quite share the stage at an education conference in Texas on Monday. But they both spoke about a common goal: expanding the accessibility and affordability of higher education at home and throughout the world.
The former Florida governor, who organized the Dallas conference on the globalization of higher education with former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt, spoke only briefly Monday morning – serving in more of an emcee role introducing guests.
But Clinton spoke at length, saying she worried “that we are closing the doors to higher education in our own country.” She cited the challenges faced by 6 million Americans between 16 and 24 who are out of work and school.
“In many countries around the world, the numbers are even higher,” she said. “One of the reasons for unrest and dissatisfaction are the lack of jobs, the lack of incomes to support a family, to create a ladder of opportunity. And it’s imperative that we do more in our country to redefine higher education to meet the needs of those who are caught in between whatever their year of completion was and whatever their potential might be.”
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Education advocates should bring in partners to “keep driving innovation,” she said. “We need to use every tool at our disposal. But we can’t forget that at the end of the day, providing education for everybody has to be the goal.”
Bush, in his remarks, said using technology – such as online classes – to expand access to post-secondary education around the world could create a more sustainable economic model for colleges and universities in the U.S.
He tied that theme together with his own political experience in a video presentation promoting the conference, noting that as Florida governor from 1999-2007 he made education his top priority, and has focused on expanding access to higher education ever since.
“People here in our country are concerned about the affordability of higher education, and they should be,” he said in the video, “but millions upon millions of students who aspire to a better life around the world are concerned about access to education.”
The solution to the “affordability challenge” in U.S. universities, Bush argued, is to “find new ways to attract students from around the world to our great universities.”
Bush and Clinton offered broad themes, rather than the kinds of specific policy prescriptions that might be expected on the campaign trail. Clinton did, however, caution against an overreliance on online learning, arguing that “technology is a tool, not a teacher.”
“It cannot replace hands-on experience, on-the-job training or laboratory-based experiments,” she said. “On its own, it cannot teach creativity or critical thinking, but it can open doors that did not exist even a few short years ago.”
Clinton praised Bush for his focus on education in Florida and noted that he had “continued that work with passion and dedication” since leaving office.
She spoke expansively about her efforts as secretary of state to make educational opportunity “a major focus of our foreign policy efforts.”
“Only through education will people feel confident enough, empowered enough, to stand up for themselves and for a larger, better vision of where their society could go,” Clinton said, describing one of the lessons she had drawn from an activist in Nairobi.
“I feel very worried about what we’re not doing here at home and what we’re not perhaps dealing with and responding to around the world,” Clinton said.